Works and Days

Works and Days

Crime as Politics

December 28th, 2014 - 9:25 pm

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In the last few days, the local Fresno community was outraged — or at least was reportedly to be so — at the vandalism of a local Islamic cultural center.

The police authorities almost immediately, and without waiting for the full evidence to be collected, declared the minor burglary and damage the apparent dividend of illiberal dark forces. The chief of police, without compelling evidence, and without explaining why a secular medical building was also trashed in the spree, rushed to hold a press conference. He declared the broken window and moderate trashing of the center’s interior, not just a “hate crime,” but in fact a “brazen hate crime.”

What next followed was Fresno’s comic version of what now is normal race and gender news. Almost immediately it was learned that there was a video of the suspected perpetrator in mediis rebus. Mr. Asif Mohammad Khan was a Muslim, with a record of mental disturbances, and had attended the center. He claimed that he had vandalized the buildings as part of payback to other center attendees who, he claimed, had bullied him — and reportedly was known to be an admirer of Osama bin Laden. The “brazen” hate crime and the atmosphere of intolerance vanished with the local morning fog. The FBI, of course, is still “investigating” a possible “hate crime.” But they too will quietly go away in short order.

But just a few days earlier, there was another Fresno crime captured on video, both violent and in theory fueled by racial animus, or at least more deserving of a FBI second look at such a possible catalyst. At a local municipal bus stop an elderly man with a walker bravely protested that a large youth was bullying a smaller teen. The video captures the thug in response yelling at the defender, then striking the man to the pavement. The latter hit his head on his walker and momentarily lost consciousness.

The attacker was a large, rather young African-American; the victim a 62-year-old white man. What followed was no police hectoring. No lectures about the safety of the city’s bus stops. No police chief warnings about interracial tensions. No brazen hate crime sermons about the hale and young attacking the elderly or disabled. Indeed the police initially did not even consider the attack a crime, but rather a “fall.” Only a chance bystander’s video of the incident led to a reinvestigation and the suspected perpetrator’s arrest.

Unlike the city’s failed effort to turn the Islamic center vandalism into a teachable moment, this really was a teachable moment, perhaps in two unfortunate regards. One, heroism is rendered foolish. So far no one in the city has stepped forward to congratulate a disabled senior’s heroic (and apparently successful) efforts to divert the bullying of teenager onto his own person. His only reward was to have been knocked out by the attacker, and the crime initially not considered a crime, but his injuries due supposedly to his own clumsiness.  Second, the disabled victim is lucky he was not armed. Had he pulled out a legal, concealed weapon when the bully approached him to attack, and fired in self-defense, we would have another Trayvon Martin hate crime, and charges that a climate of racial intolerance had led to the death of another unarmed African-American. In comparison to all that, a head injury is apparently preferable.

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Fantasyland, U.S.A.

December 22nd, 2014 - 4:53 pm
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Mr. President, honest, I did not write 1984 as a how-to guide.

One way of reinventing reality is to warp the meaning of words. No president in memory has waged such a war on the English language as has Barack Obama — changing the meaning of vocabulary to hide what he fears might otherwise be unpopular.

Take executive orders. He brags that he does not issue them as commonly as his predecessors, but that is only true because Obama has now renamed some of his executive orders presidential “memoranda.” Add up both categories, and no president in the last half-century has so frequently bypassed Congress to unilaterally make new or ignore existing laws.

If Obama suddenly does not get his legislative way after losing the Congress, and boasts in defiance about his plans to act unilaterally (“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone”), then why the need to hide that brag with linguistic gymnastics?

When Obama faced reelections, he pointed to increased deportations. But that claim hinged on changing the meaning of deportee. All of a sudden, illegal aliens who were stopped and turned away right at the border count as deportees. By changing the meaning of words, Obama believed that he could reinvent the reality of open borders into tough border enforcement.

But then again, when he found it useful to brag of open borders, suddenly he pointed to lower deportations, as the vocabulary once again readjusted its meaning.

On another front, Obama simply makes up names that imply the opposite of reality. The Affordable Care Act was hardly affordable. Obama knew that he could not save the American family the promised $2,500 in premiums, or reduce deductibles, or lower the deficit through health care reform. Instead, insurance policy premiums have gone up, plans and doctors have been dropped, and deductibles have soared. According to Jonathan Gruber, these known downsides of Obamacare had to be disguised from the supposedly “stupid” American people.

In the world of the Obama administration, Bowe Bergdahl, the deserter who was exchanged for four terrorists held at Guantanamo, did not, as National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisted, serve “with honor and distinction.” Instead, he abandoned his fellow soldiers at the front, and walked over to find the enemy Taliban. Traitor, like the word jihadist, has been excised from the Obama vocabulary.

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The Campus as California

December 14th, 2014 - 7:50 pm

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Campuses are becoming the haunts of the very wealthy and the poor, with little regard for any in-between — sort of like California.

Let me explain. Lately lots of strange things have been in the news about college campuses — from the Rolling Stone’s mythography of the University of Virginia fraternities to Lena Dunham’s invented charges of rape against a supposed Oberlin College Republican to courses on “white privilege” to “hands up; don’t shoot” demonstrations protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown.

Tuition and Debt

But there are lots of campus topics that garner little publicity. Take tuition costs. Aggregate student debt is reaching $1 trillion — a result of an insidious relationship between federally guaranteed loans (many of which cost over 5% annually to service) and tuition spikes that habitually exceed the rate of inflation.

As a result, in a logical universe, there would be widespread student protests against the lack of transparency in university budgeting. There would anger at paying Hillary Clinton nearly a third of a million dollars for a boilerplate 30-minute chat. There would be grassroots complaints about the costly epidemic of new administrative positions and federal mandates that have nothing to do with in-class instruction. There would be inquiries about why teaching loads have declined as tuition skyrocketed.

Instead, there is mostly silence on campus. Why? Perhaps the answer reflects the fact that the campus bookends the trajectory of California — in that elite and wealthy students do not really care that much whether their combined tuition, room, and board tab goes from $55,000 a year to $60,000, given their parents’ ample resources. At the other end, poorer and often minority students are more likely to have access to college grants and scholarships. The working classes in between, who often lack familial capital and are not designated as disadvantaged in ethnic or class terms, more often pay the full bill. Do universities count on such dichotomies — that the most influential in terms of race, class, and gender issues are the most likely not to have to pay themselves the spiraling tab?

Faculty as Wal-Mart Greeters

Another dead issue is the presence of winners and losers on campus. The universities are divided into two classes: tenured and tenure-track professors versus part-time lecturers. At some public universities, the number of units taught by the part-time pool is exceeding 40% of all classes offered. The former grandees make three to five times more per class than the latter losers, and receive better benefits, life-time security, and far better working conditions (class selection and times, offices, release time, sabbaticals, etc.).

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Ripples of Ferguson

December 7th, 2014 - 8:25 pm
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Police tape in front of smoldering remains of Prime Beauty Supply in Ferguson in the aftermath of riots. Photo taken on 11/25/14 by R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com.

There is some blame to go around in nearly all racial confrontations. Why the body of Michael Brown was left in the street for hours seems inexplicable. The apparent chokehold that contributed to the death of Eric Garner, with the benefit of video hindsight, does not seem to square with the de facto exoneration of the officer involved. In contrast, there has been absolutely no credible evidence that the unfortunate shooting of Michael Brown was not in self-defense.

Instead, most of the protests about Ferguson are based on untruth and the lessons are therefore surrealistic. Indeed, the reductionist messages of Ferguson from the street, the media, and the Justice Department seem to appear twofold. In hindsight, Officer Darren Wilson apparently made two postmodern mistakes. One, when he saw Michael Brown strangely walking down the middle of the street — and collated that behavior and his appearance with breaking information of a suspect on the loose who had just strong-armed a clerk and robbed the store — he stopped to investigate. Had Wilson simply waved and passed Brown by — and ignored the prior possible felony act and the misdemeanor that he was watching in progress — then Brown would never have had an opportunity to assault him. Brown would not have been shot. And the Ferguson chain of events would never have been jump-started on that particular day.

Some of the public may think that the lessons of Michael Brown — and Trayvon Martin — are that it is unwise to commit a crime and then assault an officer, or confront a stranger in the rain and slug him in the head and get into a tussle, given that such targets may be armed and may respond with deadly force. But I think critics would privately respond that in Al Sharpton’s America both cases instead advise to take the beating and do not dare use a firearm for self-protection from assault on the chance the attacker is unarmed. In retrospect, Zimmerman might have preferred to have been “whoop-assed,” or Wilson preferred being slugged than to become lifelong targeted pariahs.

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When the Law Is a Drag

November 30th, 2014 - 10:17 pm

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In the Ferguson disaster, the law was the greatest casualty. Civilization cannot long work if youths strong-arm shop owners and take what they want. Or walk down the middle of highways high on illicit drugs. Or attack police officers and seek to grab their weapons. Or fail to obey an officer’s command to halt. Or deliberately give false testimonies to authorities. Or riot, burn, and loot. Or, in the more abstract sense, simply ignore the legal findings of a grand jury; or, in critical legal theory fashion, seek to dismiss the authority of the law because it is not deemed useful to some preconceived theory of social justice. Do that and society crumbles.

In our cynicism we accept, to avoid further unrest, that no government agency will in six months prosecute the looters and burners, or charge with perjury those who brazenly lied in their depositions to authorities, or charge the companion of Michael Brown with an accessory role in strong-arm robbery, or charge the stepfather of Michael Brown for using a bullhorn to incite a crowd to riot and loot and burn. We accept that because legality is becoming an abstraction, as it is in most parts of the world outside the U.S. where politics makes the law fluid and transient.

Nor can a government maintain legitimacy when it presides over lawlessness. The president of the United States on over 20 occasions insisted that it would be illegal, dictatorial, and unconstitutional to contravene federal immigration law — at least when to do so was politically inexpedient. When it was not, he did just that. Now we enter the Orwellian world of a videotaped president repeatedly warning that what he would soon do would be in fact illegal. Has a U.S. president ever so frequently and fervently warned the country about the likes of himself?

What is forgotten about amnesty is that entering the U.S. illegally is not the end, but often the beginning of lawlessness. Out here in rural central California we accept a world where thousands drive without insurance, licenses, and registration. Fleeing the scenes of traffic accidents earns snoozes. There is no such thing as the felony of providing false information on government affidavits or creating made-up Social Security numbers. Selling things without paying taxes and working off the books while on assistance are no longer illegal. The normative culture is lawlessness.

Amnesty, granted through a lawless presidential act, will not stop but only encourage further lawlessness. If someone has become used to ignoring a multitude of laws without consequences, there is no reason why he should suddenly cease, given that punishment for breaking the law is still considered a politically-incorrect rather than a legal act — and that even with amnesties it will still be far easier and cheaper to break than obey the law. Who will deport an illegal alien beneficiary of amnesty when he again breaks the law? Amnesty will be seen as both reactive and prophylactic, a waiver for both past and future behavior.

More disturbingly, we have engendered a strange culture of justifiable lawlessness: those who are deemed exploited in some ways are exempt from following the law; those without such victim status are subject even more to it. Executive authorities compensate for their impotence in not enforcing statutes for some by excessively enforcing them on others.

I accept that if I burn a single old grape stake that has been treated with a copper-based preservative, I will be facing huge fines by environmental protection agencies, whose zeal will not extend to nearby residents who have created illegal compounds of rental Winnebagos with jerry-rigged wiring and stop-gap sewage or who dump wet garbage along the side of the road. In the old days the dumpers at least used to sift out incriminating documents with names on them; now they leave them in, without worry over the consequences.

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Explaining Away Obama

November 23rd, 2014 - 5:00 pm

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The only mystery about the last six years is how much lasting damage has been done to the American experiment, at home and abroad. Our federal agencies are now an alphabet soup of incompetence and corruption. How does the IRS ever quite recover? Will the Secret Service always be seen as veritable Keystone Cops? Is the GSA now a reckless party-time organization? Is the EPA institutionalized as a rogue appendage of the radical green movement with a director who dabbles in online pseudonyms? Do we accept that the Justice Department dispenses injustice or that the VA can be a lethal institution for our patriots? Is NASA now a Muslim outreach megaphone as we hire Russia, the loser of the space race, to rocket us into orbit?

Will anyone again ever believe a U.S. red line, step-over line, or deadline? Will Iran ever accept that it should not have a bomb or fear the consequences of trying to get one? Is Iraq (omnis effusus labor) a sort of rescued Eurydice that was abruptly lost on the trek up from the Underworld? Will Afghanistan become Saigon, 1975? How could Putin ever again be worried about offending a U.S. president, or could China or North Korea? Are we now always to be allies of Islamist Turkey and indifferent to its enemies like our once-allied Kurds, Cypriots, Greeks, and Israelis?

Will the economy ever again grow as it should? Will disability, food stamp, and welfare recipients jump back into the workforce should we frack on federal lands, build the Keystone pipeline or quit berating private enterprise?

Every statistic that Obama has produced on Obamacare enrollment, deportation, unemployment and GDP growth is in some ways a lie. Almost everything he has said about granting amnesty was untrue, from his own contradictions to the congressionally sanctioned small amnesties of prior presidents. Almost every time Obama steps to the lectern we expect two things: he will lecture us on our moral failings and what he will say will be abjectly untrue.

I hope we can all recover, but it would require an honest autopsy of a failed presidency. So far, progressives assume that the media and Obama’s whining, blame-gaming and finger pointing can somehow return him back to a 50% approval rate and perhaps even a face-saving legacy. The result is that progressives, the media, and the Obama cohort have promulgated an entire series of excuses for what is a failed tenure like few any in the last century.

Bush Everywhere

George W. Bush is blamed by the administration for all its woes and not mentioned for any of its inheritances that proved salutary. The economy is said to be Bush’s fault, without recognition that Bush assumed the presidency during the Clinton recession. Also, Obama did not enter office during the meltdown of September 2008 but over four months later, when the economy was stabilizing; the recession was officially declared over before Obama’s first six months in office.

Nor do we remember that what caused the Wall Street/Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac implosion was not Bush’s policies per se, but rather all sorts of larger forces. Clintontites (was there a Clintonite who did not cash in with a rich brief tenure at federal mortgage agencies?) milked the system under the guise of liberal caring to expand housing; the Congressional Black Caucus damned the auditors of Franklin Raines and equated worries over unqualified subprime mortgages with racism. The deregulation of the mortgage industry was brought on by both parties in the 1990s.

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Democrat Dilemmas

November 2nd, 2014 - 10:32 pm

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Here is the problem with the old-style Obama strategy of slicing and dicing the electorate into aggrieved minorities and then gluing them back together to achieve a 51% majority. On almost every issue in this election that they should be running on, they simply cannot. And on those that they are running on, they probably should not be.

Let me explain.

We Didn’t Do What We Did

Foreign policy?

Consider the failed Russia “reset,” the bugout from Iraq, the “leading from behind” in Libya, the Benghazi scandal, the Iranian soon-to-be bomb, the smearing of Israel, the special relationship with a thuggish Erdogan, the dissolving Middle East, the eroding NATO, and an ever more bullying China. No Democrat will run on something like, “I fully support the Obama foreign policy initiatives and the brilliant work of Secretaries Clinton and Kerry.” Foreign policy, then, cannot be a campaign issue, in the positive sense of defending the status quo. No Democrat even made the attempt.

How about bigger and competent government?

No Democratic congressman would wish to campaign on, “Obama made government work for you — just look at the new and dynamic IRS, VA, ICE, GSA, NSA, and Secret Service.” “Not a smidgen of corruption” is not a viable campaign theme. No candidate even tried that.

Why don’t Sens. Landrieu, Pryor, and Udall play up their support for the Obama economy?

We did not see a candidate commercial like the following: “I was instrumental in keeping interest rates at zero percent for six years. I made sure that we borrowed another $7 trillion and oversaw the $1 trillion stimulus. We kept GDP above 1% and unemployment below 7%.” Apparently avoiding a depression is not felt to be an economic renaissance, and thus not a winning message.

How about Democratic ads trumpeting new big-ticket government initiatives?

Do any local, state, or national Democrats barnstorm on, “Soon Obamacare really will lower costs, expand coverage, and reduce our deficits in 2015 — just wait and see”? Or  how about, “We almost had cap and trade in 2009; I’ll make sure Obama finishes the job and gets it passed in 2015”? Or perhaps,  “Thanks to my efforts, we stopped all new fracking leases on federal lands”? Bragging on record oil and gas production despite, not because of, Obama is not a rallying cry either.

Maybe immigration could have been a Democratic winning issue?

No Democrat aired a radio spot like, “Those Central American children are just the beginning of what we can accomplish on the border. Let’s keep our borders open and welcome in more of our neighbors.” Democrats privately concluded that subverting immigration law to gain constituents was something to keep quiet on rather than boast about.

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Crimes of Exactly What?

October 26th, 2014 - 6:41 pm

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The recent unfortunate shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and its violent aftermath seem to have had everything and nothing to do with race.  Brown was black and unarmed and the officer white; but it is equally true that the 292-pound Brown likely committed a number of crimes in the minutes before his death. He was high on drugs; he robbed a store and strong-armed the clerk; he was walking down the middle of a road; and he started a physical altercation with policeman Darren Wilson (who tried to question him), inflicting injuries on the officer before being fatally shot. If that were a typical day in the life of an American citizen, then civilization, as we now know it, could no longer exist.

So far, evidence both released and leaked suggests that Brown most likely tried to grab the officer through the police car window, prompting a struggle over his gun — which was fired into the patrol car twice — began to run away, and then was shot as he turned and charged.

There is no evidence so far that Brown was either shot in the back or shot while his hands were up, surrendering to the officer. Legitimate questions, of course, remain about many of these details of the shooting of an unarmed suspect, and eyewitness accounts are conflicted; but so far no forensic evidence suggests an execution-type police shooting.

No matter. Ferguson is supposedly now iconic of white institutionalized racism and police brutality, a teachable civil rights moment, as it were, that is currently being used by Democratic candidates to galvanize the African-American vote against Republican candidates. So much so that everyone from Eric Holder and Barack Obama to Elizabeth Warren and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has described the shooting or its violent aftermath as iconic of some sort of American pathology. It may be a half-century since the civil rights movement in an America that is no longer white/black but a racial melting pot, yet we seem ossified in 1965 amber.

Several days of rioting followed the shooting. Black activists such as Al Sharpton, the New Black Panther Party and Jesse Jackson, as is their wont, have leveraged the Brown shooting to indict America for endemic brutality against people of color, and by extension enhance their own deplorable careers of inciting racial tensions. More post-Ferguson demonstrations followed a subsequent fatal shooting in St. Louis of 18-year old African-American Vonderrit Myers, by a white off-duty policeman employed as a security guard. Yet so far no one has disputed that Myers first fired three rounds at the off-duty policemen and was killed by returning fire. If firing three rounds at an off-duty police officer cannot be considered to warrant a legitimate violent response, but rather must be illustrative of racism, then we are going to have some tough days again. I say that mindful as well that African-Americans statistically commit a vastly greater percentage of relatively rare interracial crimes than do whites against blacks.

The resulting logic is that the rare white-on-black crime must be transcendent and iconic of something, while the far more common black-against-white violence is either irrelevant or in some way the understandable baggage of our racial past. That, too, is not a sustainable 21st century proposition.

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Nothing much the Republicans have done explains why they are on the verge of taking back the Senate and making gains in the House.

Not since the summer of 1974 or October 1980 have we see a presidency in a total meltdown. Abroad, ISIS, Putin, and the bullying Chinese have revealed that the Obama administration is either clueless or has subordinated foreign policy decisions to rank politics — or both. At home we have Ebola. Meanwhile, the list of corrupt, incompetent or politically rogue federal agencies keeps growing — the VA, ICE, the NSA, the IRS, the Secret Service … even the Patent and Trademark Office. Each day we learn yet another story about how corrupt Eric Holder’s Justice Department is — the latest a vendetta against a California timber company.

Allowing flights to Monrovia, Liberia, follows the same sort of script that told us Benghazi was a spontaneous demonstration caused by a right-wing video maker. Susan Rice still goes on Sunday television shows and tells whoppers. Another partisan czar, Ron Klain, knows little about what he is supposed to salvage other than to finesse the politics of disaster — reminding us of Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” When Obama’s starts out with “make no mistake about it,” we know something along the lines of the Obamacare falsehoods inevitably follows.

Those not working are at all-time highs. Zero-percent interest rates have impoverished the middle class and enriched the Wall Street elite. Our youth, saddled with $1 trillion in student debt, will have to pay back much of the $18 trillion national debt, more than a third of it piled up by this administration. Unsustainable entitlements will strangle the futures of anyone under thirty.

In reaction, Democratic congressional and Senate candidates choose to orphan themselves from Obama.  Even Jimmy Carter finds Obama wanting. Two former Obama secretaries of defense describe him as vacillating, predicating foreign policy decisions on politics.

Given such a disastrous Democratic landscape, it may be penny-wise for Republicans to eek out a midterm victory to win back the Senate by being against anything Obama is for. But it is a pound-foolish strategy that won’t do anything to stop Hillary Clinton or a Democratic resurgence in 2016.

In a word, the Republicans have several issues that resonate with the middle class, and yet they either cannot or will not cast them in a populist vein.

Take so-called “immigration reform.” Reasonable people can disagree on the specifics of ending illegal immigration, but they cannot claim that illegal immigration has not undercut the working classes’ wages, nearly bankrupted social services in the American Southwest, made a mockery out of federal law, and largely served the elite interests of the Chamber of Commerce and La Raza insiders. The issue cuts across class lines, with the poorer and the middle class opposed to blanket amnesties, while wealthy ethnic elites and corporate interests demagogue for them. Enforcing the border, making legal immigration ethnically blind, predicating immigration eligibility on skills and education, deporting all illegal aliens who have criminal records, no record of employment, and have only recently arrived — while offering a pathway for residence to the law-abiding, working, and those of long residence are all populist positions. And yet elitists like Mark Zuckerberg and ethnic demagogues, who cynically tie immigration with tribal affinities and future political constituencies, somehow have pegged the Republican Party as nativist, xenophobic, and racist for wanting existing laws enforced and immigration to be adjudicated by character and skills not race and ethnicity.

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From Comedy to Farce

October 12th, 2014 - 2:51 pm

It was tragically comical that the commander in chief in just a few weeks could go from referring to ISIS as “jayvee” and a manageable problem to declaring it an existential threat, in the same manner he upgraded the Free Syrian Army from amateurs and a fantasy to our ground linchpin in the new air war. All that tragic comedy was a continuance of his previous untruths, such as the assurance that existing health plans and doctors would not change under the Affordable Care Act or that there was not a smidgeon of corruption at the IRS.

But lately the Obama confusion has descended into the territory not of tragedy or even tragic comedy, but rather of outright farce.

Last week we learned from the Washington Post that an investigator looking into the Secret Service prostitution scandal was ordered by the inspector general “to withhold and alter certain information in the report of investigation because it was potentially embarrassing to the administration.” The “embarrassing” information was the allegation that a member of the White House staff advance team had solicited a prostitute while prepping Obama’s Colombia visit — a fact denied by then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in April 2012, when he assured the press that no one from the White House was involved in the scandal that brought down lots of Secret Service and military personnel.

But here is where the farcical kicks in. The squelched investigation was focused on White House staffer Jonathan Dach. And who is Dach? He was at the time a young Yale law student and White House staffer, and is now a State Department activist working on — what else? — “Global Women’s Issues.”

And how did young Jonathan Dach at the ripe age of 25 years land such a prestigious job as a presidential advance man? His father, Leslie Dach, was a lobbyist who gave the Obama campaign $23,900 and was later hired on to work with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. And, of course, Leslie Dach now has left his job lobbying for Wal-Mart. And where does he work now? For the Obama administration. Promoting what? Obamacare.

Here is the essence of the Obama administration’s abyss between word and deed: in the age of the war on women and the end to lobbyists in government, the feminist young aide is alleged to have solicited a prostitute; the most transparent administration in memory covered that fact up during the reelection campaign; the president who promised to end the revolving door and ban lobbyists from government hired not just a one-percenter lobbyist and donor, but his randy son as well.

Can it get much richer than that? Unfortunately, it can — literally, as we’ll explore on the next page.

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